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Your Guide to Southern West Virginia Lakes

Southern West Virginia is an outdoor paradise. There are so many things to do, it’s hard to decide where to start sometimes. Rafting, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and zip lining  are awesome West Virginia adventures, but don’t forget about our  lakes and just how much fun they can be.
Our Lakes Were Made For Fun

Boley Lake @ Babcock State Park (Pic by Teresa Perdue)

The lakes here offer many different possibilities for getting your play on.  Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Summersville Lake is the largest lake in WV, with over 2,700 acres of water. It offers camping, boating, fishing, rock climbing, scuba diving, and has a state-managed hunting area as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the World Class Gauley River is just downstream of the dam.
  • Little Beaver Lake is located just east of Beckley.  It has fishing, boating, hiking, and biking trails.  Set up at one of the campsites and get your vacation started.
  • Lake Stephens is another Beckley area lake about 7 miles out of town.  It has over 20 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It also features a skate park, tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, and has awesome fishing to boot.
  • Bluestone Lake is created by a flood control dam on the New River at Hinton. It has a State Park and Wildlife Management Area; the list of recreation opportunities is virtually endless.
  • Plum Orchard Lake is a sweet little Fayette County lake known for its fishing and laid back camping areas. A great place to get away for a weekend.
  • Hawks Nest Lake is created by another dam on the New River. Located at the western edge of the New River Gorge National Park, it offers boating, fishing, and jet boat rides. Hawk’s Nest State Park is perched on the rim of the Gorge just above the lake.
  • Boley Lake is located within the confines of Babcock State Park. There’s hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and rowboat and paddleboat rentals. This is one of the most overlooked lakes in the area.
  • Moncove Lake is in Monroe County, where the lake and adjoining Moncove State Park make a truly great place to get away. Hiking trails, great birdwatching, and superb fishing and hunting make this lake a great place to commune with nature.

So, which lake are you going to visit first?  Tell us in the comments!

Fall in Southern WV

Fall in Southern WV is one of our favorite times of the year. Lots of good things are happening, from a change of scenery to a change in  whitewater.  Here are some of the highlights:

Fall Weather

Fall has, by far, the best weather for visiting southern West Virginia. Don’t get us wrong; we love our hot summer days and awesome ski weather.  But temperatures in the 60′s and 70′s during the day

Babcock's Glade Creek Grist Mill

are just delightful.  Cooler weather  also means open cabin windows, cool breezes, and crackling campfires.

Fall Colors

Much of WV is covered by deciduous hardwood forest. Hundreds of species of trees that, as temperatures begin to cool, start preparing for a winter hibernation by pulling the chlorophyll out of their leaves and into their roots.

In layman’s terms, this is what happens when leaves change colors. Because of West Virginia’s vast number of tree species, the colors of the forests are remarkable. From bright yellows to deep dark crimsons, a fall West Virginia forest is a beautiful sight.

And southern West Virginia has plenty of areas to take in these colors. State parks like Pipestem, Hawks Nest, Babcock and Bluestone offer hiking trails and scenic views that are only more special thanks to the fall color display.

Fall Festivals

Southern West Virginia towns take advantage of the great weather and great views to stage some wonderful fall festivals. From Bramwell’s Oktoberfest to Railroad Days in Hinton, this area is celebrating the fall season somewhere almost every weekend in October. We’ve got a complete list of all the festival opportunities southern West Virginia has to offer.

Fall whitewater

Raft guides from all over the world get excited for fall in WV because it means that Gauley season is here. If you’ve ever rafted in this area  (or anywhere on the east coast, for that matter) no doubt you’ve heard of the Gauley River.

For 6 weekends in September and October, the Army Corps of Engineers draining of Summersville Lake creates one of the best whitewater runs in the world. It features 27 miles of whitewater.  The first 9 miles drop over 70 feet per mile and contain five class V rapids.  It’s no wonder that over 60,000 people come here over the 22-day Gauley Season to get their whitewater adrenaline rush.

What’s your favorite part of fall in West Virginia?

Secrets in the World of Cabin Rentals

If you’re thinking about getting away this spring, there are lots of options for you here in Southern WV including some great cabin rentals.  Some are rustic, some more modern.

Inside View of Modern Cabin

Some include a full list of amenities, and some amenities can be added …if you know to ask for them.

Here are some secrets (ahem..tips) for knowing what to ask for when booking your trip:

Modern vs. rustic.  To some of us, a cabin is a cabin is a cabin.  But there are actually lots of different types depending on the experience you’re looking for.  Be sure and ask about things like electricity, televisions, phones, etc.  Some have them, and some are happy to offer you cabins without modern technology disruptions.

Must Haves. Must haves vary from person to person. Some people will only rent cabins with fireplaces, some have to have an outdoor hot tub, others just want their rental to be tucked away in the woods (that’s an easy order here in southern WV).  Knowing  what you ‘must have’ will help you make a decision when it comes to choosing your vacation cabin.

Late arrival. We’re fortunate in WV to have a warm hospitable spirit.  So much so, that if you are running late to your cabin, many owners will hide a key for you so that you don’t have to do the official check-in that night.

Outside view of Southern WV Cabin

Views. If you want to look out at an incredible view in the morning or sit in the hot tub with only trees surrounding you – just ask for it.  Many reservationists are used to travelers asking for rooms and cabins with the best view and are happy to oblige if it’s available.

Want extras upon arrival? If you’re planning a romantic getaway or a trip with your children, ask the owners or reservationists to help you out by placing a bottle of wine, flowers or teddy bear in the cabin as a surprise.   Many places are used to this type of request and can easily add it on to your bill.

DiscountsWV State Parks offer some great discounts if you do your homework.  These include discounts for Active Military and spring specials.  Other area cabins offer off-peak and multi-day rental rates.

Hope to see you soon!

Start Filling Out That New Calendar

January marks the chance to sport a new calendar on the wall and start filling in some fun weekend events among all your other work and family commitments.

As you turn the page into January, February, and March, why not add in some fun

Tamarack Artisan Center

events alongside noting Grandma’s Birthday and your next work trip?  While you might not naturally associate arts and culture with southern West Virginia, maybe you should.  The artisans and creative class working among our mountains have plenty of inspiration all around them and are bringing some great events to you right here in Southern West Virginia.

In Raleigh County, the first few months of 2011 bring a chance to experience the life of prized writer Emily Dickinson or combine dinner and theatre at Tamarack, the state’s iconic arts and cultural center.

Over in Greenbrier County, you can celebrate your folk roots with the most awarded band in the history of bluegrass coming up on February 11.

In Fayette County, take in a showing of  “The Pied Piper” at Historic Fayette Theatre, March 4, 5, 11, 12, 18-20th.

In Summers and Mercer, social life  just got a little more interesting with the opportunity to  spend some quality time with your sweetheart at Pipestem Resort State Park.  Anytime is a good time to get away with the one you love but special sweetheart events are planned for Feb 11-13 including entertainment by  ‘Time Peace’ from Craigsville, WV during the Sweetheart Dance on Saturday night.

This is just a few of the events happening in 2011.  So what are you waiting for check out the 2011 Southern West Virginia Events Calendar and start saving the date(s)!

Sledding Down Mountains ( Just Like Calvin & Hobbes)

Sledding Down Mountains

( Just Like Calvin & Hobbes)

Some of the greatest memories ever made included the simplest of items.  Cookie dough and your kids, a huge roll of paper and some paints, or even a few inner-tubes on some freshly fallen snow.

Tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort

Those of you in the deep south know the feeling you got when you saw your first snowflake or when your kids built their first snowman.  But the time honored tradition of sledding is just as swell.  Kids of all ages (including the adult variety) can find so much joy in gliding down mountains.

If your travels take you to Southern WV this winter, be sure and take in some sledding at our top locations – Winterplace Ski Resort and Pipestem State Park.

Winterplace offers WV’s largest tubing park with two great Super Carpet lifts to whisk you back to the top of the mountain. (Now don’t you wish we had that as kids?)

Pipestem offers a little family fun as their Driving Range goes snowy.  The park’s Pro Shop offers sled and cross country ski rentals by the hour or by the day and a great hill for sledding.

What memories does sledding conjure up for you?  Snow days off from school?  Calvin and Hobbes strapped in a toboggan?  Or your last trip to WV?

When was the last time you went sledding?

Things We Have To Be Thankful For In Southern West Virginia

In no particular order…

25. All of our state parks and forests (12 total!)

New River Gorge Bridge View

New River Gorge Bridge View

24. Theatre West Virginia
23. The history and heritage of the southern West Virginia mountains
22. Being right in the eastern flyway for migratory birds
21. The State Fair every year in Lewisburg
20. The Gauley River National Recreation Area
19. Some of the best traditional mountain music ever heard by human ears
18. Delicious local wine made right here in southern West Virginia
17. Mountaineers/Thundering Herd (tie)
16. Skiing, snowboarding, and the state’s best snow tubing
15. The incredible New River Gorge National Park
14. Great food and local cuisine
13. 3 minor league baseball teams and professional basketball
12. Internationally known ATV trails at Hatfield and McCoy and Burning Rock
11. Golf resorts to rival some of the best courses anywhere
10. Tamarack, our showcase for West Virginia artisans
9. The world’s best whitewater
8. Wonderful lodges at Pipestem Resort
7. Cabins in some of the most scenic places in the Appalachian Mountains
6. Hiking in some of the oldest, most beautiful spots on earth
5. Being a world class rock climbing destination
4. State-record fishing
3. Shopping and antiques in every corner of southern West Virginia
2. The pride that comes with having more men and women serving in the military than any other state
1. A home that we’re always happy to share with family, friends, and visitors

And there are so many more.  What are you thankful for this year?

What’s The Deal With Monroe County?

Hey… Take It Easy
Here’s the thing about visiting West Virginia:  It can get pretty

Indian Creek Covered Bridge

Indian Creek Covered Bridge

busy.  Especially in Monroe County.  It’s the ideal place to take it easy.

Seriously.  I’ve had to wait minutes, literally minutes, for big groups of wild turkeys to cross the road.  Same thing with deer.  With me just sitting there, watching.

And if I’m taking a walk around the mountains in the southern part of the Mountain State, I’ve had to wait almost an hour to see the sun set.  Honestly.  Sometimes longer.

A Different Kind Of Busy
Monroe County doesn’t have a stoplight.  Or a highway.  And that suits the people there just fine.

It suits a lot of visitors just fine, too.  Monroe County might be one of the greatest escapes no one knows about.  Those lucky ones who know and visit there get to experience a real retreat.

Nothing To Do, And All The Time In The World To Do It
If you’re thinking of heading out to Monroe County, you’ll want to take your time.  That’s why you’re going there in the first place, right?

Well, you should look around, because there are a lot of great places to do nothing when you get there.  For starters, there’s some perfect lakes and streams that are made of the kind of country R n’ R that fits Monroe County so well.

Try the banks of Indian Creek that drains into the New River (and passes under the Indian Creek Covered Bridge), or Potts Creek which runs the other way, into the James River.  There’s fishing and floating to be done on both, and they’re about as busy as the rest of the area, meaning there’s plenty of peace and quiet.

For the best water in the county, though, you should try Moncove Lake State Park. Everything in the park is within walking distance, and the park backs up to a much larger wildlife management area.  So, there’s swimming in the summer, hunting in the fall, and all kinds of stuff in between.

So What Else?
Well, a stop in Union can give you a glimpse of what small town life in Monroe County is all about.  Make sure to check out the courthouse, which is on the national registry of historic buildings.

The county also boasts  restored covered bridges, old grain and blacksmith mills, and historic churches and cemeteries.

Another “don’t miss” is the Wolf Creek Winery.  Tours and tastings are held all the time, and there’s plenty of opportunity to drink in the great flavor of the area.  With every sip, you can taste the clean Greenbrier Valley water, cool nights, and warm summer sun.

And if you don’t taste it the first time, just keep on sippin’.  You’ll get there.  Promise.

So take a trip to find out what the big deal is about Monroe County.  When you get there, grab a bottle of wine and head off in any direction.  You’re sure to find mountains, streams, lakes, and some secluded, laid-back spots that jump up and invite you to relax and enjoy it all.

And forget about traffic.  Except the deer.

What’s The Big Deal With Summers County?

Pipestem State Park Tram

Pipestem State Park Tram

If you go less than 200 miles from home, is that considered a “stay-cation”?  If so, and you live in Southern West Virginia, go ahead and sign up for one in Summers County.

Hinton’s there.  If you have any interest in railroads, or rivers, or coal mining history, or hot dogs (you know what I’m talkin’ about!) that’s your town.  Hinton was a hub in during the coal boom, mainly because 3 major rivers, and as many major rail lines, come together there.

Trivia:  Guess which rivers.  If you said the Elk, Big Coal, and Kanawha, you’re wrong! And you’re thinking of Charleston.  The three rivers that meet in Hinton are the Bluestone, the Greenbrier, and the New.

And, it just so happens that Hinton is also the gateway to some of the coolest outdoor recreation in SWV.  That’s saying a lot.

Bluestone State Park
Just minutes down the road from Hinton is Bluestone State Park, at the mouth of the Bluestone River where it joins the New.  Actually, that’s all part of Bluestone Lake, being backed up by the Bluestone Dam.

But the park – the park is awesome!  Very laid back.  Clean.  Friendly folks.  Lots of space.  The cabins are the way to go if you want to be up on the mountain, but there’s a lot of great camping down at the river.

A bonus is the YPP- Young People for Parks program.  A naturalist meets up with kids every afternoon and evening to explore part of the park.  Check out the bats, find wild mushrooms, go fishing, and on and on.  It’s a very cool program for keeping the kids entertained.

Pipestem
Pipestem is a jewel in the crown of the West Virginia State Parks system.   The park opens up to a big rolling hill of green grass and tall trees, pushed right up to the edge of the Bluestone River Gorge.

Let’s just say that the picture window in the lodge is a good place to spend about 15 hours watching wildlife.  Deer, bear, all kinds of birds.  Walk outside and you’re in a painting.

Also, there’s a ton to do.  If you have kids, and you want the “park” experience, go there.  Archery, interpretive hikes, swimming.  Mini golf, not-so mini golf (par 3 course), big golf.  Camping, cabins,  and two lodges – one’s accessible only by tram.

That’s right.  I said tram.

The place is like a perfect mountain getaway, with plenty to do.  And plenty to not do.  It all depends on what you want.

Bet Summers County has it.

5 Places To Get Away On National Trails Day

June is the time for getting outside in southern West Virginia, and it kicks off with National Trails Day on the 6th.  All over our area, you can get together at different locations to enjoy some trail time, and learn about the environment that you’re walking through.  Here are some spots to check out…

•   Twin Falls Resort State Park -  Hike n’ Bike National Trails Day at Twin Falls is a chance for people to get out on the trail whichever way they’d like to for some guided hikes and rides.  Meet at 10 am at the Scout Field.
•   Pipestem Resort State Park and New River Gorge National River - The Old Bluestone Turnpike Hike is a 10 mile guided trek along the Bluestone River that starts at Pipestem and ends at Bluestone State Park.  Bring water, lunch, and sturdy hiking shoes, and meet at Pipestem’s Mountain Creek Lodge (bottom tram) at 10 am.  There’s a free shuttle back to Pipestem, too!
•    Cranberry Glades -  This guided hike along the Cow Pasture Trail in Cranberry Glades is hosted by the US forest service.  It’s a 7.8 mile loop, and the group will be doing some light trail maintenance along the way.  Bring food and water, and be ready to hike!  Get info and pre-register with the Forest Service by email  nwelch@fs.fed.us .
•    Paint Creek Scenic Trail Bike Ride -  This tour is hosted by the Paint Creek Watershed Association.  There’s a 60 mile ride for avid cyclists and a 16 mile family ride, and both meet at 10 am.  Some refreshments are provided, and there will be fishing and music at the end of the day.  Register via email info@lowerpaintcreek.com .
•   Hawks Nest State Park – Here’s an easy and accessible Guided Hike called Hawks Nest Encounter Nature.  Groups will meet at the Mill Creek Rail Trail trailhead at 9 am for this easy two mile hike down to the New River.  Do a bit of clean up along the way, and learn about the woody plants, wild herbs, and local history in the area.

Of course, you can enjoy these trails all season long.  Do you know some other good hikes in the area?  Which ones are your favorites?

Rafting, Rhododendrons, and Recreation… Spring Hits Southern West Virginia

Ah, spring!  Little green buds, wildflowers, the great outdoors… is there anything better?

Well, the answer to that question depends on… where you spend your spring.  We’re biased, of course, but how can we not be?  Spring is pretty dramatic here in the mountains.  If you choose to spend time here, you’ll find out that the changing seasons reveal some great secrets.

Secrets Of Springtime

Here’s one:  Did you know that when trees turn green in the spring, they do it according to elevation?  Lowest goes first, then up and up.  It makes sense, when you think about it.  Spend time here in the spring, and you’ll see blooms and buds advance up the sides of the valleys right in front of you.  Green below, brown on top.  Seriously- it happens overnight; you can tell a difference if your plan you stay at the right time.  It’s dramatic.  It’s alive.

Time To Hit The River

Another secret: rafting in West Virginia starts each spring.  Spring is high water time here on the New and Gauley Rivers.  The rapids are big and the water is chilly. It’s like a wake-you-up-better-than-coffee kind of brisk.  It might be too big or to cold for a traditional family trip, but high adventure rafting is just about perfect here in the spring.  If you want to take one of the greatest white water rafting trips you can get take, look at coming in the springtime months.

Blooms Everywhere

Southern West Virginia, for anyone looking for it on a map, is just about smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains.  It’s one of the most diverse ecosystems you’ll find anywhere on earth.  Spring flowers start with forsythia and daffodils, redbud and paulownia.  When you see the yellow, red, and purple, get ready – things are beginning to pop.  By the time the rhododendron’s bright pink and the dogwood’s delicate white flowers arrive, spring has sprung.  In all nine counties that make up southern West Virginia, you’ll find some of the brightest blooms anywhere, and it happens every spring.

Recreation? Check…

Do you enjoy taking a fishing trip?  It’s a pretty popular sport in our part of the state.  Spring is an exciting time as the fish get active, especially trout.  The water temperatures start to rise in the creeks, rivers, and lakes, and the fish get moving.  Warm days start to get more and more productive as trout stir.  If you like to use bait, try stretching out worms on gang hooks.  You’ll present more naturally to the trout, and your bite rate will start to climb.  Some of the best places to fish (and for recreation in general), are the southern West Virginia State Parks and Forests.  There are twelve (twelve!) of them in our area.

Southern West Virginia is a great place.  If you’ve never been, spring is a perfect time to come take a look.  Give us a call – we’d love to help you plan your stay and remember southern West Virginia is Closer Than You Think!

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